Jerry Cooper on Spanish Cava

Photo by Stefanie Michejda

Jerry Cooper has worked the last 20 years in San Francisco as a restaurant wine director, retail sales manager, and wine consultant. He has recently established his own company, Swirl on Castro, a wine/spirits retail store and wine bar in the Castro district, and has received industry accolades. Jerry sits on the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Panel, and is a judge at The San Francisco International Wine Competition, as well as the Best of The Bay Wine Competition.

Spanish Cava: Delicious Sparkling Wine for the New Year

Cava from Spain is the hottest new sparkling wine, with cava corks popping all over town in the hippest new restaurants, at home dinner parties, and at local wine bars. Cava is full of vivacious, refreshing, effervescent bubbles, and stands up to the job of New Year's Day Hangover Cure: Cava Mimosas. (It usually takes two.)

And when entertaining at home, serving French Champagne is not always an option at $30 a bottle and up. Meanwhile, cava from Spain, produced in the méthode champenoise (fermented in the bottle, just like true Champagne) ranges from $6-$20 a bottle. This is a great value for Champagne-style sparkling wine that spends nine-plus months en tirage in the cellar. (Riservas are aged up to two years; cava translates to "cave" in Spanish.)

Cava is easy to serve at your pre (and post) parties, without breaking the bank. When dining in or out, cava works well with a variety of appetizers, from soft cheeses to smoked meats, and roasted nuts.

My favorite new restaurant in San Francisco is the warm, deliciously creative, and hip Tinderbox in Bernal Heights. My friends and I always start with the Colet Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut Traditionnelle-it is bone dry and adds a refreshing snap to the complimentary popcorn that quickly arrives at the table. (This amazing light-as-air popcorn is served warm after being lightly tossed with a touch of butter, yellow curry, fried peas, fresh ginger, and shredded celery leaves.) Cava and popcorn is the rigueur de jour. Try it at home.

Spain's sparkling wine comes mostly from the Penedes region, in western Spain, and there are 250 cava producers. The grapes that are used to make cava are indigenous to Spain: Macabeo, Xarel·lo (say Zar-rell-o), and Parellada (Par-rey-yah-da). Cava can be vintage dated or blended non-vintage. Brut (dry style) is the most popular, but cava is also produced in seco (sweet) and dulce (dessert) styles.

Cava does not improve while being kept; indeed, it deteriorates with age. Buy it, store upright in a cool (not cold) place for as little time as possible, and drink it, preferably in the same week.

Segura Viudas is a well-known, larger producer in Spain. Their non-vintage Brut Riserva ($19 a bottle) is excellent, with aromas of baked fruit, cream soda, and vanilla--the apple and pear flavors follow into the finish as the bubbles dance on your tongue. Harder to find is the delicate and deliciously fresh Delapierre Brut NV, with zesty pineapple and toasty brioche notes. This sparkler is a top seller at Swirl on Castro (a great value at $10 a bottle).

Cava rosés are quickly gaining in popularity. Mont-Ferrant Rosé NV ($20 a bottle) is a blend of garnacha (grenache) and monastrell (mourvèdre). It's quite showy, with aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries and black currants--this pink sparkler is dry, elegant, silky, and creamy. Also devilishly pink and delicious is the Juvé & Camps Brut Rosé ($20 a bottle), made from 100% pinot noir grapes. There is nothing to fear from rosé cavas--they are dry, and refreshingly versatile.

So remember cava when thinking of a perfect aperitif, planning party beverages, or meeting a friend for "a splash" at your local restaurant bar or your favorite international or tapas restaurant, ask if they serve a cava by the glass. ¡Salud!